Tributes to Sunderland’s ‘warrior of the voluntary sector’

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Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner marks the life and work of a Wearside community champion.

TRIBUTES were today paid to a “warrior of the voluntary sector” who devoted her life to helping others.

Pat Burn with her award from the Centre for Voluntary Service

Pat Burn with her award from the Centre for Voluntary Service

Pat Burn, a tireless campaigner for the sick, vulnerable and elderly, lost her battle with cancer on May 20 – just three months after her beloved husband Fred passed away.

“It seems contradictory to describe Pat, the gentle, well-spoken lady, as a warrior, but she was always prepared to fight for people and causes,” said friend and colleague Liz Clark.

“For in excess of 30 years she donated her time and talents to the vulnerable citizens of Sunderland, and especially the people of her beloved village of Silksworth.”

The storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe when Pat, daughter of market gardener Bill Howells and his wife Norah (nee Donnelly), was born in July 1935.

As a youngster she won a coveted place at St Anthony’s, then a grammar school, and at 20 she married miner Fred Burn at St Leonard’s RC Church in Silksworth.

The couple went on to have three sons and, as the children were growing up, Pat threw herself into working for the Silksworth community, offering help wherever she saw a need.

“Pat cared passionately about people and it is impossible to list all the good causes she supported,” said Liz, who worked with her on the Disability Alliance Sunderland group.

“The disabled, older people, youth projects and community groups all benefited from her help, as did churches and charities. Pat was an inspiration to all who met her.”

Pat’s many achievements included helping to establish Disability Alliance Sunderland, the Disability Independent Advisory Group and Silksworth Heritage Group.

She also volunteered at Age Concern Stroke Club, Gilley Law Youth Project, Sunderland CVS, Tunstall WI, a Dystonia charity and the Federation of Community Associations.

“Pat joined this latter group while battling for the survival of Silksworth Community Centre. She was instrumental in helping to save the building,” said Liz.

“She served for many years on the Prolonged Illness Group as well, which was set up to help people who had chronic protracted conditions or life threatening diseases.

“During this period she was also a carer for her husband Fred, who suffered from dystonia – a neurological movement disorder – and other illnesses in later life.”

Pat managed to find time to work for, and fight for, youth projects, disabled people, health charities and community groups too – winning a Pride of Wearside award for her services in 2008. As a Catholic of “steadfast faith” she worked tirelessly to bring together people of all denominations as part of the Silksworth Fellowships and Churches Together group.

And she was also extremely well known across Sunderland for her columns in the Echo’s Down Your Way each week, in which she chronicled life in Silksworth and Ryhope.

“Pat’s three priorities were her God, her family and her community – all of which she loved and dedicated her life to. I was blessed to have had her as a friend,” said Liz.

A funeral service for Pat is to be held at 11am at St Leonard’s Church, Silksworth, tomorrow. She leaves three sons, nine grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.

“Mam was an inspirational person who went about her life with quiet determination,” said sons Steve, Ian and Alan.

“She managed to make a difference to a whole community.

“From messages received, we know her loss will be felt by so many people and that it has left a large void in our lives and theirs.

“She brought us three lads up with complete selflessness, caring and love, took pride in us and was always there for us whenever we needed her.

“As a grandmother, her unconditional love created a wonderful relationship with her grandchildren. As a wife, she was totally devoted to dad and showed incredible fortitude in caring for him.

“Finally, her faith was resolute to the end and gave her immense comfort. We are determined to remember the happy times we had, and there were so many of them.”

‘She loved her local community and wanted to share that with others’

Councillor Stuart Porthouse, deputy Mayor of Sunderland and a member of Sunderland South Forum with Pat, said:

“Pat was an absolute Godsend to the community sector, providing wonderful help, sterling advice and great understanding of issues. She will be a great miss.

“If she had been a stick of candy rock broken in two, she would have had the words Community Champion written through and through her.

“She was a stalwart of the community.

“She got a great deal of pleasure in helping the community and had a great deal of love for people. ”

Douglas Smith, of Silksworth Heritage Group, said:

“Pat was a pivotal figure in all the community affairs in Silksworth, and latterly in Ryhope, through her weekly columns in the Echo – which she never missed.

“A founder member of Silksworth Heritage Group, and an inspirational driving force, she wholeheartedly gave herself to the group – conducting meetings for over 20 years. She was always ready to report on church affairs, weddings, coffee mornings or charity activities, making sure to listen out for local news and give it a mention.

“The result was that her column was amongst the best, if not the best, of all the Neighbourhood News entries. It will be a hard task for anyone else to take over.”

Norman Barron, deacon of St Leonard’s Church, said:

“Pat was a wonderful example to everyone. She worked tremendously hard in support of all the churches in the community, helping to bring people together.

“Her own personal faith as a Catholic was absolutely steadfast, right until the end. She was a wonderful example of her faith.”

Connie Bulmer, local historian and community worker, said:

“Pat was a lady of many attributes. She sat on a number of committees including Silksworth Community Association and Sunderland Community Matters.

“Here she showed herself to be of determined character, spending a lot of time with the help of Sunderland CVS staff making a successful application to the lottery to employ a worker to support Community Associations throughout the Sunderland area.

“She was also happy to travel to represent Community Matters in the Northern area and National Conferences, as well as attending meetings across Sunderland.

“Pat was a kind person who enjoyed walking in the countryside and started a walking group at Silksworth. She was also a bright intelligent lady who will be sadly missed.”

Lorna Park, who worked with Pat at the Age Concern Stroke Club, said:

“Pat and myself worked together for quite a few years.

She and her late husband Fred loved my Downs Syndrome daughter Andrea. Pat would call to my home just to make sure Andrea was all right.

“We are all going to miss Pat around Silksworth, but we know she will be united with her dear husband Fred, who she nursed throughout his illness.”

Sunderland Echo editor John Szymanski and Down Your Way editor Debbie Mitchie said:

“It has been a pleasure to work with Pat and she will be very much missed by those people who worked and knew her at the Echo.

“Pat was always keen to make sure she included everyone in her community, young and old, when writing her columns for the Down Your Way section of the Echo. She will be a huge a miss to us all.”

Janette Hilton, project director for the Living History charity based at the old Donnison School in Sunderland’s East End, said:

“She was a lady who was inspired by her local heritage to give back to her community. She will be sadly missed.

“She loved her local community and wanted to share that passion with others. She was inspirational in her dedication to local heritage and the wider voluntary sector.”